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VDOT: Speed drop, signal 'not warranted' at intersection following crashes

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DINWIDDIE - The results of a recently requested study for the area in and around an intersection where two crashes have occurred this year, including one that claimed the life of a Dinwiddie High School student and injured several others, have come back and, according to state transportation officials, the stretch of road in question doesn't meet the threshold for either a traffic light or a reduction of speed.

That information was disseminated to the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors last week by the Virginia Department of Transportation and residency representative Scott Thornton during his monthly report to county leaders. In February, supervisors requested a speed study along U.S. Route 460 (New Cox Road) near the intersection of Route 627 (Courthouse Road) on the heels of two crashes, with one of those crashes resulting in the death of Dakota Reid, prompting the teenager's family along members of the Dinwiddie community who frequent the road to ask VDOT for options to fix what is seen by many as a dangerous intersection, be it a traffic light, speed reduction, or some other form of safety measures.

Speaking specifically to the now-completed speed study, Thornton told county supervisors that VDOT's engineers found the 85th percentile speed for that section of New Cox Road is 67 miles per hour, meaning 85 percent of all vehicles observed driving through the corridor under free-flowing conditions were found to be traveling that speed at the monitoring point during the study.

The speed limit in that section of New Cox Road is 60 miles per hour and, according to state transportation data, that speed limit is in place from the Dinwiddie-Nottoway County line to just west of Claiborne Road in Sutherland, roughly 21 miles.

When the idea of a speed reduction was floated in the wake of this year's crashes, VDOT representatives explained while some assume dropping the speed limit would result in a reduction in the frequency and severity of crashes, dropping the speed below that 85th percentile speed can create its own problems, including drivers outright not obeying the lower speed.

"Studies have shown that motorists tend to drive at the speed they perceive appropriate for the conditions of the roadway," the agency explained. "When determining speed limits, engineers attempt to set a realistic limit that the majority of drivers will obey and that can be reasonably enforced."

VDOT continued, “A primary consideration is the speed characteristics, particularly the prevailing (free-flowing) speed, of vehicles on the roadway. Absent undue enforcement, posted speed limits that are set much lower than the prevailing speeds will not be obeyed by motorists.”

Those points were reiterated by Thornton as he shared the results of the speed study on U.S. Route 460 with county leaders and residents in attendance for last week's meeting.

"The highest speed posted by statute is 60 [miles per hour] so, a reduction in that location is not warranted or recommended," he said.

In regards to the traffic signal study, it was a similar outcome as the agency's engineers found no grounds for a light at the intersection across all of the various criteria that are reviewed to determine if a traffic signal should be installed.

"They evaluated it across the warrants, from the lowest to the highest threshold and, at no time did it meet any single warrant for a signal at that location," Thornton said.

To that end, he said the agency remains committed to bringing options for a permanent fix to the intersection as, in past meetings, VDOT has stated, in their perspective, options such as a traffic light would be a temporary solution to the roadway's issues, revisiting the restricted crossing U-turn intersection proposed during a transportation committee meeting at Eastside Enhancement Center in February.

According to Thornton, VDOT is preparing to present two options for the restricted crossing U-turn, also referred to as an R-Cut intersection concept at U.S. Route 460 and Route 627. One version of the R-Cut would keep the current turn lanes, allowing for left turns from New Cox Road onto Courthouse Road from either direction.

The second concept would close the current turn lanes and require drivers to travel through a new path that would allow drivers on New Cox Road to make a safe U-turn, then turn right onto Courthouse Road.

In general, traffic engineers say restricted crossing U-turn intersections are safer as it greatly reduces the number of conflict points present in a traditional intersection configuration, a point made by Thornton in late February when asked about installing a traffic signal at the intersection.

“The traffic light doesn’t eliminate the conflict points and we do not want to go from unrestricted conflicts to rear-end crashes, like we see at Olgers Road and U.S. Route 460,” which, if traveling eastbound from the New Cox and Courthouse Road’s intersection, is the next closest full-function traffic light along the roadway.

In either case, Thornton and County Administrator Kevin Massengill said VDOT is looking at all funding sources that can help get the project going as soon as fiscally possible.

"We have also asked [VDOT] to show us how using existing funding to allow us to go ahead and implement either A or B," Massengill said, referring to the two options for the R-Cut intersection. "We're hopeful to see what the plan would be using existing funds and how that may potentially impact your secondary six-year plan, but also attach a timeline as to when this work will be completed."

He continued, "The thought was that any fix at this location would probably be beyond the school year. We have asked them to go back, look at that and see if there is any way to do something more expeditiously to get some things implemented there prior to that work."

Some things discussed at the February committee meeting are close to being implemented, including the larger stop signs and new markings at the intersection that would require drivers to stop at a stop sign in the median between U.S. Route 460 before proceeding onto Courthouse Road.

According to Thornton, the signs have been ordered and things like road markings need to be done in warmer conditions. He added the last thing they want to do before moving forward with their temporary improvements, VDOT officials want to meet with Dinwiddie High School's young drivers to give them a walkthrough of how the stop sign in the median of the roadway will work.

"We will be doing a presentation at the high school," he said. "What we wanted to do was talk to the student-drivers in advance of Spring Break and let them know how the new signage will look so they won't go on Spring Break and then come back to all this new signage. We want to talk to them and educate them."

"We have been working with [Dinwiddie Schools Superintendent] Dr. Weston and [DHS Principal] Johnson on this," Thornton remarked.

He said they expect to do all the signs and marking work during their Spring Break, which is scheduled for April 1 through 5.

For Dr. Weston, she said she has been very pleased with the engaging role VDOT has taken in regards to improving the intersection and reaching out to the school division to educate students.

VDOT has taken an active role in this process and have been very responsive,” she said in an interview. “They want to ensure that they make a thoughtful decision based on data and research, praising them for the plans to visit the high school to answer questions about the road and the changes. “This is another example of a sound community partnership.”

In regards to the R-Cut intersection, transportation officials plan to present options to county leaders during their next budget worksession.